Johan Vilhelm Snellman is regarded by many Finns as one of the fathers of their nation. He contributed greatly to the establishment of the Finnish language, an independent currency and gaining national identity for Finland. May 12 is dedicated to him and has become known as the Day of the Finnish Identity.
Snellman was born in Sweden on May 12, 1806, and moved to Kokkola, Finland with his family in 1813. During this period, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia and in the mid-1800’s, the language spoken by politicians and nobles was Swedish despite 80 percent of Finns speaking Finnish. There were also very few non-religious publications written in Finnish. Snellman wanted to change this.
While working as a university lecturer in Helsinki, Snellman was an outspoken opponent of Russia’s rule over Finland. In his opinion, Finland needed to increase the use of their native language to create a national identity and avoid being integrated into Russia. This idealism was not popular with the Russian influenced university hierarchy resulting in his forced departure from both the university and Finland, moving into exile in Germany and Sweden. The death of Emperor Nicholas of Russia in 1855 allowed Snellman to continue his work at the university as a professor and seven years later he joined the Senate of Finland, becoming the minister of finance.
[alert type=white ]In his opinion, Finland needed to increase the use of their native language to create a national identity and avoid being integrated into Russia.[/alert]
During his time in office (1963-1968) he materialized his ideas and made a massive impact on Finnish society. He passed a language decree which gave the Finnish language equal standing to Swedish within the Finnish government. The Finnish currency, markka, was introduced in 1865 which was largely a result of Snellman’s efforts.
Even though Snellman had unparalleled popularity amongst the people of Finland, his idealism created animosity amongst some of his fellow politicians. He was forced to resign in 1868 but continued to participate in the political debate until he died in 1881.
Since his death, his statue has been placed in front of the Bank of Finland in Helsinki and he has appeared on Finnish banknotes.
[divider]What is a flag day?[/divider]
Being a newcomer to Finland, a strange tradition stood out and bugged me to no end. Each time it happened (maybe twice a month) I referred to it as another “random Finnish flag raising day.” There seemed to be no pattern and I couldn’t find out any information as to the event triggering the spectacle.
After questioning locals and a little research, I have found out that the official term, Flag Days. Finland honors its ancestors who have contributed to their culture by giving them a flag day. It could be their birthday or another significant day depending on their achievements. On these days, of which there are 18 throughout the year, every flag pole must bear the Finnish flag. It is truly a breathtaking site to behold. Thousands of flags fly high as each building has at least one pole and many streets are lined with flags.